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Excerpts: Post Reporters Take Questions on Governor's Race

Washington Post staff writers Amy Gardner and Sandhya Somashekhar were online Wednesday, Sept. 30, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss Virginia politics and the Race to Richmond.

See some of their answers to readers' questions below, or read the full transcript.

Aldie, Va.: When the Post broke the thesis story, did you detect a shift in Deeds's focus on issues? Aside from social concerns, what issues does Deeds talk about the most on the campaign trail?

Amy Gardner: Hello, and thanks for the question. There's no question that Deeds's campaign strategy shifted pretty significantly after the story of the thesis broke on Aug. 30. Certainly his campaign was planning to focus on Bob McDonnell's record of conservatism, particularly on such social issues as abortion and covenant marriage. But since then it's been pretty much a blitz about McDonnell's thesis and the votes he's taken in the General Assembly that have matched some of the ideas laid out in it.

Purcellville, Va,: Is Northern Virginia's lack of awareness of state politics frustrating for you? As you write about issues, do you feel as if you're starting from the ground up? As a native of Tidewater, but a 23-resident of Northern Virginia, I've often seen media coverage of state politics overshadowed by national politics, given our proximity to D.C. Compared to other media markets, we see little of what goes on in Richmond. I think this is why McDonnell was doing so well in the Northern Virginia polls until the thesis story. People here had no idea about his legislative record on social issues and were buying into the moderate image McDonnell projected this summer.

Sandhya Somashekhar: Really great question. While I would agree that Northern Virginia residents have a more Washington-centric focus than people elsewhere in the state, it's not frustrating for our Washington-centric newspaper. It can be a challenge for statewide candidates, though, as I think we've seen this year.

Gilbert's Corner, Va.: Do you believe the Post has committed enough resources to covering this race?

Amy Gardner: Methinks this might be a trick question. We've got an unprecedented team this year: four reporters; a weekly summary page, Race to Richmond, in our Sunday edition; a daily blog of events, videos, snark, spin. What more could you ask for?

Arlington, Va.: As McDonnell uses his family in his ads, what do his wife and working children do for a living? I guess the same is the same for Deeds family.

Amy Gardner: McDonnell has five children, and two of them are out in the world working: Jeanine, an Iraq war veteran and now a civilian contractor with SAIC; and Cailin coordinates youth outreach for the state GOP. His wife, Maureen, worked a bunch of different jobs before starting a family, and since then has run a variety of businesses out of their home, including nutrition and home decorating businesses, according to the campaign. She is focused only on the campaign this year, however.

Deeds's wife Pam is a state employee, working for the Virginia Employment Commission. Their oldest of four children, Amanda, is out of school and working in Northern Virginia. Sorry, couldn't find out what she does on short notice.

Reston, Va.: I'm voting for Deeds because I don't like McDonnell's social conservatism (hey, I'm a working woman, according to McDonnell I'm detrimental to families!), but I can't help but agree with the McDonnell campaign's point that Deeds doesn't seem to have much of a platform beyond "don't vote for McDonnell." I'm concerned that it's going to hurt Deeds in the demographics McDonnell hasn't disparaged.

Amy Gardner: There's no question that Deeds is focusing pretty heavily on the thesis, and there's a lot of debate about whether he's risking a) alienating people who are tired of the message and b) not defining himself very well beyond the thesis. Polling shows that while the thesis has harmed McDonnell, particularly among women, there are a lot of folks who appear to be drifting away from McDonnell but not to Deeds. In other words, the proportion of undecided voters is growing. That's not good for Deeds, and he needs to give those voters a reason to come to him if he is to win on Nov. 3.

Great Falls: As I watch the national debate on health care, I have come to conclude that Republicans in the Senate and House are against anything that aids private citizens and in favor of things that favor big business. In other words I am now generally biased against Republican candidates. I do not need Deeds's negative ads based upon McDonnell's 20-year-old thesis to convince me to not vote for the Repubican. I do not need the Washington Post's blatant bias by its editors and reporters favoring Deeds to not vote for McDonnell. However, Deeds has done nothing to convince me I should vote for him, and that is important. Deeds comes from rural Virginia and has not been a friend for the needs of Northern Virginia. He has done and said nothing to convince me that he would do anything to help Northern Virginia with its problems, should he be elected. What is his obvious reluctance to address these issues or does he think that the women of Northern irginia will simply fall for his negative hype about McDonnell?

Sandhya Somashekhar: Hi Great Falls. There is evidence that both candidates' approval ratings are slipping as the attacks get more negative. And in Amy's and my story today, we describe the potential pitfalls for Deeds in focusing so intently on the thesis.

Arlington, Va.: Thanks for the reporting on McDonnell's thesis, but what about Deeds's writings? Have you reported on any of his law school writings? Even if it is boring and immaterial, shouldn't you at least report on it?

Amy Gardner: Deeds' Law Review Articles

Not your fans: You probably don't care, and won't print this comment, but I am very unhappy with the apparent bias toward Deeds that I have seen in your coverage of the Virginia race. You never seem to miss an opportunity to revisit the ridiculous thesis issue while not even trying to critically appraise Deeds's past views and voting records. It's very obvious to me that you're simply following lockstep with your editorial page's preference to Deeds, whom I have absolutely no doubt The Post will endorse. I realize that you two want to keep your jobs, but please understand that you're fooling nobody with your approach.

Amy Gardner: Lots of folks think we have bias -- always have and always will. It's important to point out, though, that we didn't make the thesis a huge issue. The Deeds campaign did. We put it out there because we saw something that we judged would be of interest to our readers. We were right about that. It has genuinely moved the numbers in most recent polls, so to argue that it's "ridiculous" is valid as a private point of view, but not as a criticism of our coverage of it. If you think it would have been fair and balanced of us not to have published the details at all, I'm afraid that's not reasonable.

Arlington, Va.: With the governorship in Virginia being such a weak office (the one term limit is ridiculous!), does it really matter who wins?

Sandhya Somashekhar: The governor has a great deal of say over the state budget. As my colleague Anita Kumar just pointed out to me, Gov. Kaine just eliminated 1,000 jobs in the effort to balance the budget. He appoints university heads, judges and the State Corporation Commission, a powerful agency that oversees utilities. Kaine has vetoed bills that would have expanded the death penalty. The governor also plays a key role in attracting businesses. That's what I have off the top of my head. I'm sure I'm missing a lot.

By Christopher Dean Hopkins  |  September 30, 2009; 12:24 PM ET
Categories:  2009 Governor's Race , Amy Gardner , Creigh Deeds , Election 2009 , Robert F. McDonnell , Sandhya Somashekhar  
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These are softball questions. You all are hellbent on keeping the thesis story not primarily to hurt McDonnell but to bolster your own careers and if McD loses, than that's just an added benefit. You are not getting the Pulitzer. And the notion that "working women" are the key to this election is nothing more than your continuation of those attacks on McD. This state has a sizable Black, military, affluent and rural population. Why aren't they important?

Posted by: sandersedward | September 30, 2009 12:55 PM | Report abuse

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